Julie Johnson Searcy, Angela Castañeda


Julie Johnson Searcy (jsearcy@butler.edu)

Julie is Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Butler University. Her research in South Africa compares experiences of birthing women across clinical settings; looking at public and private hospitals and home birth, she addresses stratified reproduction, violence, race and HIV in a post-apartheid context. Her research in the U.S. focuses on doulas, the politics of reproduction and birth culture. She co-edited Doulas and Intimate Labour: Boundaries, Bodies and Birth (Demeter Press, 2015).

Angela Castañeda (acastaneda@depauw.edu)

Angela is the Lester Martin Jones Professor of Anthropology at DePauw University. Her research in Brazil, Mexico, and the U.S. explores questions on religion, ritual, expressive culture as well as the cultural politics of reproduction, birth and motherhood. Her most recent projects focus on the role of doulas in birth culture. She is co-editor of Doulas and Intimate Labour: Boundaries, Bodies and Birth (Demeter Press, 2015). 


Pandemics have the power to suspend normal rituals, including those surrounding birth and death. Doulas, labor assistants dedicated to providing continuous emotional, physical, and informational support to pregnant and laboring people, found their work of “mothering the mother” disrupted by the impact of the pandemic which stripped people of identity-making rituals (Raphael 1973). And while many birthing people were confronted for the first time with the inability of our healthcare system to deliver quality care, for others the pandemic represented an increase in their already heightened and marginalized status. Early reports detailed the ways this pandemic widened inequalities such as disproportionate death rates based on race and ethnicity as well as increasing gender and income inequality (Ralph 2020; Villarosa 2020). It also deepens these inequalities among some of the most marginalized populations, in particular, pregnant and laboring people (Davis-Floyd, Gutschow, and Schwartz 2020). Using data from over 400 qualitative surveys and dozens of follow-up interviews conducted in 2020 with doulas from around the United States, we demonstrate how doulas can help center conversations on inequalities in birth for people in marginalized groups. At the frontline of birth for many expectant families, doulas speak to the way COVID-19 exacerbated stratified reproduction (Ginsburg and Rapp 1995).

At Greater Risk: COVID-19 and the Amplification of Inequalities in Birth

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